Deputy Prime Minister of Canada

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Deputy Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
Style The Honourable
Member of
Appointer Governor General of Canada
Term length At Her Majesty's pleasure
Inaugural holder Allan MacEachen
Formation September 16, 1977
This article is part of a series on the
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The Deputy Prime Minister of Canada (French: Vice-premier ministre du Canada) is an honorary position in the Cabinet, conferred at the discretion of the prime minister. Since 2006, there has been no deputy prime minister.

The deputy prime minister should not be confused with the position of the Clerk of the Privy Council, who is effectively deputy minister to the prime minister. Like other deputy minister positions, the Clerk is a civil servant and not a minister of the Crown.


The position of deputy prime minister was created by Pierre Trudeau in 1977, largely to recognize the long years of service of Allan J. MacEachen.[1] Before then, Trudeau had given the title of Senior Minister to a member of his cabinet;[1] the last to occupy that position was Paul Hellyer.[1]

Joe Clark's government did not have a deputy prime minister. Similarly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not designate a deputy prime minister, meaning Canada's most recent deputy prime minister was Anne McLellan, who in 2006 was also the first deputy prime minister to lose her seat in the House of Commons. Harper gave special status in the line of authority to members of his cabinet: under an order-in-council issued by Governor General Michaëlle Jean on February 6, 2006—the day Harper was appointed prime minister—when "the prime minister is unable to perform the functions of his office" Lawrence Cannon, then Jim Prentice, then the balance of the Cabinet by order of precedence, were "authorized to act for the prime minister".[2] This order was followed by a number of others updating the list. Previous prime ministers have had similar orders-in-council, under which the deputy prime minister and then the balance of the Cabinet, in order of precedence, have been authorized to act for the prime minister.

Similarly, no deputy prime minister has been named in the cabinet of incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.


The official duties of the deputy prime minister are to answer questions pertaining to overall government policy during Question Period and to chair the Cabinet in the absence of the prime minister. The office has no standing in law and does not carry any formal duties or tasks—that is, it is without a portfolio—though, the prime minister may negotiate or assign specific tasks in conjunction with the title. With the exception of Herb Gray, all deputy prime ministers have held a portfolio alongside this title.

One deputy prime minister, Sheila Copps, attracted controversy in 1993 after asserting that she was "in charge" of government business while the then Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, was out of the country. After she left politics, she wrote that although the position of deputy prime minister is only ceremonial, "very often, the DPM's job was to protect the prime minister from the political damage that Question Period can inflict on a leader", further citing the experience of Erik Nielsen during the Sinclair Stevens scandal.[3]


Unlike the Vice President of the United States, the deputy prime minister does not automatically assume the office of prime minister if the incumbent of the latter office dies or resigns. In the event of the sudden resignation or death of a prime minister, constitutional convention requires the governor general to consult the governing party and call on a member to assume the prime-ministership. No policy or convention precludes the deputy prime minister from being chosen as the new prime minister in such a scenario, but none assures it, either—the party caucus would be free to recommend any new leader of its choice to the governor general. Barring extraordinary circumstances, the governor general is expected to follow the wishes of the party, although officially he or she retains the authority to make the final decision. That being the case, no Prime Minister has died in office or resigned suddenly (except following his or her party's electoral defeat) since the 1890s, many decades before the office of Deputy Prime Minister was created.

In the provinces of Canada, the deputy premier also does not automatically succeed to the office of premier in the event of a sudden resignation or death. Unlike at the federal level, however, there have been instances where the governing party recommended that the deputy premier serve as premier on an interim basis until a permanent successor was chosen—most notably, Dan Miller ascended from the deputy premiership to the premiership of British Columbia in 1999, following the resignation of Glen Clark, and Kathy Dunderdale ascended from the deputy premiership to the premiership of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2010, following the resignation of Danny Williams.

Extended notice is usually given when a sitting prime minister does not plan to lead his/her party into another election. Leadership contests to determine the successor to a prime minister are usually held during the final days of the incumbent's term, and are traditionally a lengthy and competitive process. In almost all cases, the outgoing prime minister hands over power directly to their designated successor, without any interim prime minister. By contrast, during leadership contests for the official opposition party, the leader of the opposition has often (though not always) been occupied by an interim parliamentary leader. The opposition party's deputy leader (assuming that post is occupied) is often chosen for this role unless (s)he plans to run in the leadership election, in which case someone else would be chosen since it would be considered harmful to the election process if the interim leader was to be one of the candidates.

Legally speaking, any "interim" Prime Minister appointed by the Governor General would not merely be an "Acting Prime Minister", and would have the full powers and prerogatives of any other prime minister.

Succession chances[edit]

Chrétien is the only deputy prime minister who has become prime minister. However, no deputy prime minister has directly (or within one parliamentary term) ascended to the position of prime minister or party leader. By contrast, five Ministers of Finance have become Prime Minister; Sir Charles Tupper, R.B. Bennett, John Turner, Jean Chrétien, and Paul Martin. All but Chrétien (during his 1984 leadership bid) were considered the front-runners to succeed the outgoing prime minister or party leader. Chrétien was finance minister from 1977–79, deputy prime minister in the short-lived government of John Turner in 1984, was the front-runner when he mounted his successful 1990 leadership bid, and became prime minister after his party won a majority in the 1993 election.

Though Paul Martin did not hold the title of deputy prime minister during his tenure in cabinet, as finance minister, he was considered to be more influential than Copps while she was deputy prime minister. Martin's successor, John Manley, was the only finance minister to also hold the title of deputy prime minister, from 2002–2003. When Martin became prime minister, however, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan generally had precedence over Finance Minister Ralph Goodale. McLellan turned out to be Canada's most recent deputy prime minister; the Liberals were defeated in 2006 and she lost her seat, opting to retire from politics afterwards.

In the 2003 Liberal leadership convention the then former and then current deputy prime ministers, Sheila Copps and John Manley (also the finance minister), respectively, were candidates, but neither were successful in their bids, losing to Paul Martin. Copps and Manley did not run for re-election to the House of Commons in 2004, and neither contested the Liberal leadership in 2006 that was triggered when Martin resigned.

Current prime ministerial line of succession[edit]

An order-in-council on 4 November 2015 updated the list of ministers to act for the Prime Minister if he is unable to perform the functions of his office.[4] The order gives the line of succession as:

# Office Current officer
1 Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale
2 Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lawrence MacAulay
3 Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion
4 Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum
5 Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett
6 President of the Treasury Board Scott Brison
7 Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Dominic Leblanc
8 Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Singh Bains
9 Minister of Finance Bill Morneau
10 Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould
11 Minister of Public Services and Procurement Judy Foote
12 Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland
13 Minister of Health Jane Philpott
14 Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos
15 Minister of Transport Marc Garneau
16 Minister of International Development
Minister responsible for La Francophonie
Marie-Claude Bibeau
17 Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr
18 Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly
19 Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier
20 Minister of Veterans Affairs
Associate Minister of National Defence
Kent Hehr
21 Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna
22 Minister of National Defence Harjit Singh Sajjan
23 Minister of Employment, Workforce and Labour MaryAnn Mihychuk
24 Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi
25 Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef
26 Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough
27 Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Hunter Tootoo
28 Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan
29 Minister of Status of Women Patricia Hajdu
30 Minister of Small Business and Tourism Bardish Chagger

Deputy Prime Ministers[edit]


No. Portrait Name Term of office Political party Ministry
1 Allan MacEachen.jpg Allan MacEachen September 16, 1977 June 4, 1979 Liberal 20 (P. E. Trudeau)
No image.svg none June 4, 1979 March 3, 1980 21 (Clark)
(1) Allan MacEachen.jpg Allan MacEachen March 3, 1980 June 30, 1984 Liberal 22 (P. E. Trudeau)
2 Jean Chrétien1.jpg Jean Chrétien June 30, 1984 September 17, 1984 Liberal 23 (Turner)
3 No image.svg Erik Nielsen September 17, 1984 June 30, 1986 Progressive Conservative 24 (Mulroney)
4 No image.svg Don Mazankowski June 30, 1986 June 25, 1993 Progressive Conservative
5 Jean Charest.jpg Jean Charest June 25, 1993 November 4, 1993 Progressive Conservative 25 (Campbell)
6 No image.svg Sheila Copps November 4, 1993 April 30, 1996 Liberal 26 (Chrétien)
No image.svg none[NB 1] April 30, 1996 June 19, 1996
(6) No image.svg Sheila Copps June 19, 1996 June 11, 1997 Liberal
7 Herb Gray 2008.jpg Herb Gray June 11, 1997 January 15, 2002 Liberal
8 John Manley IMF.jpg John Manley January 15, 2002 December 12, 2003 Liberal
9 FEMA - 14172 Anne McLellan cropped.jpg Anne McLellan December 12, 2003 February 6, 2006 Liberal 27 (Martin)
No image.svg none[NB 2] February 6, 2006 Present 28 (Harper)
29 (J. Trudeau)

Acting prime minister[edit]

Prior to the creation of the position of deputy prime minister, a prime minister would routinely delegate a member of the Cabinet to temporarily act on the prime minister's behalf while the prime minister was away from the regular duties of his job for a period of time, such as being out of the country on a working visit or a vacation. The delegate was thus a caretaker, whose role was to oversee the routine day-to-day functioning of the government and cabinet during the prime minister's absence; for example, in his capacity as acting prime minister, Mitchell Sharp ordered a precautionary one-day shutdown of government offices in Ottawa on August 20, 1970, as the storm that had spawned the Sudbury, Ontario, tornado headed toward Ottawa.[5] An acting prime minister does not otherwise have the authority to act independently of the sitting prime minister in a legislative or political capacity, nor can an acting prime minister formally or informally be considered to have served as prime minister.

Due to the routine and relatively minor nature of the role, few to no research sources exist to provide a complete list of everyone who was ever given the duty. However, John Diefenbaker's selection of Ellen Fairclough as acting prime minister on February 19 and 20, 1958, is historically noteworthy as Fairclough was the first woman given the task.

Senior Minister[edit]

Prior to the creation of this position, the position of "Senior Minister" was a ceremonial position used in a similar manner, heading the order of precedence.[1] Upon the absence of the Prime Minister, the Senior Minister would become the Acting Prime Minister.[6]

No. Portrait Name Term of office Political party Ministry
1 Paul Hellyer-c1969.jpg Paul Hellyer April 30, 1968[6] April 23, 1969[7] Liberal 20 (P. E. Trudeau)


  1. ^ There was no deputy prime minister in 1996 when Copps, after being challenged on her 1993 campaign promise to resign if the government did not repeal the Goods and Services Tax, resigned from Parliament and recontested her seat in a byelection. Chrétien did not name a replacement during Copps' absence from Parliament. After winning the byelection and returning to Parliament, Copps was reappointed to the position.
  2. ^ Harper did not name a deputy prime minister, although in practice Lawrence Cannon (Member of Parliament for the district of Pontiac, Quebec) was named second below Harper in the order of precedence. Following Cannon's defeat in the 2011 election, Leader of the Government in the Senate Marjory LeBreton was named the first minister to act for Harper in his absence.
    J. Trudeau also did not name a deputy prime minister.


  1. ^ a b c d Ottawa Citizen, "A Heartbeat From The Top", Charles Lynch, 10 November 1982, pp.3
  2. ^ PC 2006-1422, available at[full citation needed]
  3. ^ [1] Archived February 15, 2006 at the Wayback Machine[full citation needed]
  4. ^ PC 2015-1230, available at
  5. ^ "Ottawa concerned". The Globe and Mail, August 21, 1970. p. 8.
  6. ^ a b The Gazette (Montreal), "Hellyer Appointed No.2 Man To Rule In Trudeau's Absence", 1 May 1968, p.3
  7. ^ Reading Eagle, "Hellyer Quits Cabinet Job", P, 24 April 1969, pg.47

External links[edit]